How come no one told me how spectacular Season 2 of "Episodes" is? (Thanks, On Demand!)
I know there's a new TV season settling in, but so far I seem to be handling my little corner of it and still found myself looking for new worlds to conquer, and in something close to desperation I clicked onto On Demand's offering of Episode 1 of Season 2 of the Showtime-BBC coproduction Episodes. I was astonished. I couldn't believe this was the same show whose first season I'd viewed with such guarded enthusiasm.
In case you're not familiar with the premise of the show, created and written by life partners David Crane (one of the Friends creators) and Jeffrey Klarik (a veteran of the Paul Reiser sitcom Mad About You): Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig play Sean and Beverly Lincoln, married British writers who are invited to come to Hollywood to write a U.S. adaptation of their successful Britcom about a beloved old teacher in a boys' school. It turns into a nightmare worse than anything they could have imagined, as they aging teen heartthrob Matt LeBlanc (the actor himself playing this imagined version of himself) forced on them as their wise old teacher.Eventually the character is transformed, a bit more plausibly, into a hockey coach, on a show now called Pucks, rigged out with perpetual ingénue Morning Randolph (Mircea Monroe) as the original show's librarian, not to mention a crew of non-acting Hollywood-style lads as "the boys."
Season 1 wasn't awful. It just all played out pretty predictably, with the Brits coping very differently with the challenges of the assault on their nice little show and the mindless hedonism of the world in which they're now plunged. Sean, for all his sniffiness shows himself eminently temptable, but it's the Hollywood-phobic Beverly who winds up sleeping with Matt, delivering a devastating blow to Sean's ego. There were okay but unremarkable turns by John Pankow (Paul's cousin Ira on Mad About You) as Merc Lapidus, the network programming chief, and Kathleen Rose Perkins as Carol, Merc's second in command and liaison to the real world -- and, oh yes, his mistress.
Season 2 begins with Sean and Beverly officially separated but still working together on a show that, improbably, seems quite possibly poised to succeed. It even has a strong premiere, followed by a steep plunge in its second week, as hordes of opening-episode watchers fail to return. But in Season 2 -- expanded from seven to nine episodes -- everything seems to me to work brilliantly. The thing is hilarious, with all the humor coming out of amazingly believably drawn characters and relationships, starting with Matt's complex relationships with each of the writers, but also including their relationships with everyone at the network and on the show.
The satire is somehow simultaneously sweetly low-key and savage. Carol, the network no. 2 gal, has become a riveting character, with a really terrific friendship in place with Beverly and total myopia about the hopelessness of her relationship with her boss. Matt tries desperately to repair his relationships with Sean and Beverly while coping with his understandably aggrieved ex-wife and his stalker. I don't know how to write about it in a way that doesn't make it sound dopey. I'm still stunned myself by how rivetingly believable and side-splitting I found almost every moment of all nine Season 2 episodes.
I'm thinking I may have to go back and look again at Season 1 to see whether there were things going on that I just hadn't tuned into yet. Meanwhile I see that Stephen Mangan has acknowledged publicly that there will be a Season 3. I'm going to have a tough time waiting.